ANAHEIM, Calif. — Aaron Judge changed into his street clothes and briefly sat on a folding chair in front of his locker on Tuesday night, more than four hours removed from the only baseball activities his injured toe will allow. It was another loss absorbed within another somber, muted New York Yankees clubhouse, where the only sounds were those of teammates trying to publicly explain why they still can’t figure out how to win without their best player.
“The mood’s down, for sure,” Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, his team’s third in a row and fifth in the last six games. “I think we all expect — we definitely all expect — better of ourselves, individually and as a team. And it’s OK to be down right now. It’s a close group. This is a low point. We’ve been battling, but this is part of it.”
The Yankees began their second half by dropping two of three to a Colorado Rockies team that was on pace to lose 100 games for the first time in franchise history. Then they flew from Denver to Orange County, California, to face an Angels team that had lost 11 of its previous 13 games, and lost to them on back-to-back nights. The Yankees were blanked by Chase Anderson and his 6.89 ERA on Sunday, then managed three runs in a combined 13 innings against Griffin Canning and Patrick Sandoval, two members of an Angels rotation that had struggled mightily throughout July.
Since Judge sprained his right big toe on the concrete portion of the right-field fence at Dodger Stadium on June 3, the Yankees’ offense has produced the majors’ third-lowest OPS (.658) and third-fewest runs per game (3.78). On Monday night, in the midst of suffering consecutive walk-off losses in extra innings for the first time in 22 years, they struck out 17 times and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Twenty-four hours later, they produced one hit through the first seven innings.
The Yankees were 10 games above .500 when Judge went down and have gone 15-21 ever since.
“That’s what the story is,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We can correct it. We have the players to do it. We have the players with track record to do it. I understand that’s the story, and it’s fair for this year. We’ve been through stretches in ’19 when we were down Judge and [Giancarlo Stanton] and kept on banging. Those guys in that clubhouse are very capable. It’s coincided, obviously, with the game’s best player out, so that’s the story. But we’re capable. Still. We got to find it. It’s as simple as that. And I know that’s a broken record, I know it’s a boring answer – we got to find it.”
At 50-46, the Yankees still possess a better record than every team in the American League Central. But they’re in last place in their own division, the AL East, deeper into a season than they have been since 1990, a year that ended with 95 losses.
Rizzo, Stanton, DJ LeMahieu and Josh Donaldson, the latter of whom is out indefinitely with a significant calf strain, have combined for 14 All-Star appearances but have slashed just .220/.298/.394 this season, producing a .692 OPS that sits 39 points below the league average. It’s why Boone scoffed when asked if it’s time to accept the possibility that this is simply what this team is.
“No,” he said. “No, no. There’s no quit in it. We got to fight. We got really good players in there, and a lot of guys who are going through a tough, tough stretch. For some probably as tough a stretch as they’ve been in their career. You don’t take your ball and go home. You stick your nose in there and you grind it out. And you compete your ass off. We’re doing that, they’re doing that. They’re not leaving any stone unturned. It’s not from a lack of work and focus and conversations.”
The Yankees have already lost four series this month, including ones to the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, two National League Central teams that will part with veteran players before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. The Yankees, a week removed from hiring Sean Casey as their new hitting coach, consider themselves buyers before the deadline but don’t have the look of a team that is only a player or two away from championship contention.
They’re banking on an imminent return from Judge, who has been taking batting practice and doing light defensive work on the field before games, and the returns of starting pitcher Nestor Cortes and relief pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga shortly thereafter.
But the active players have to figure it out themselves.
“This is part of the journey,” Rizzo said, his team nine games out of first place but only 2½ games back of the final wild-card spot. “This is the story of the 2023 season, and this is what we’re dealt with, these are the cards in front of us, and we just got to keep playing.”